Review Summary: Shapeshifting
If one thing has held true for Paul Simon throughout his illustrious career as a singer, songwriter, poet, and performer, it is that he has never been pleased with keeping things the same from album to album. During his time as part of Simon and Garfunkel, Simon’s compositions grew by leaps and bounds on every studio release, going from the traditional folk-styles of Simon and Garfunkel’s first release, Wednesday Morning 3 AM
to the overblown production that defined their final release as a duo, Bridge Over Troubled Water
in only six short years. His first solo outing, the self-titled Paul Simon
, mainly focused on Simon, his guitar, and his poetic lyricism with each track being wonderfully brilliant, albeit in slightly different ways. There were stories about a homeless man in Detroit, a loner from the Canadian Maritimes losing his virginity in the woods of New England, and general shenanigans in New York City, all which were written from a more personal perspective that would not have much sense if performed by a duo. It comes as little surprise then that in the course of a little over a year, and free of the complex compositions that included Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon was able to take full control of the studio to create any sort of record he desired.
The result of this stylistic freedom is shown throughout Simon’s second solo album There Goes Rhymin’ Simon
. While Simon has been, and always will be a shape-shifter in regards to his music, Rhymin’ Simon
marks the first great stylistic change that he undergoes during the course of his long solo career. Instead of spinning folk tales with an acoustic guitar by his side, Simon effortlessly increases the variety of genres explored in his music, preferring to fill this release with the sounds of his childhood, including sounds from doo-wop, dixie, and even blues. Obviously, in comparison to its predecessor, Rhymin’ Simon
takes advantage of a wide range of instruments and various performers in the studio, creating a richer and fuller overall sound that further highlights the diversity of Simon’s writing and performing skills. The album opens with one of poppiest song that Simon had created up until this point, “Kodachrome.” With its prominent horse-trotting rhythm, the song features a treasure trove of sounds that easily finds its roots in Bridge’s “Baby Driver.” Only a few tracks later, Simon’s touches on sounds from Dixieland and the Caribbean, most notably on the innocent and warm summer melodies of “Was A Sunny Day” and album highlight “Take Me to the Mardi Gras.”
Simon also finds time during the album’s thirty five minute running time to include the Dixie Hummingbirds on a couple of tracks, including on closer “Loves Me Like A Rock,” which features Simon in a preacher-like role as the leader of an uplifting gospel-styled call and response. The other song that prominently features the Hummingbirds, “Tenderness,” sits at the opposite end of the spectrum as a ballad through and through, but almost sneers with sarcasm when Simon recalls: “you say you care for me/but there’s no Tenderness/beneath your honesty.” Simon further explores different genres by including string sections arranged by Quincy Jones on “Something So Right” and “American Tune,” where Simon richly describes the image of “the Statue of Liberty sailing away to sea” before his very eyes. It is a haunting visual, perhaps the most illustrative vision that Simon portrayed in one of his songs (short of “A Poem on the Underground Wall”). While the album is not as consistently lyrically powerful as on his first solo record of the seventies, Simon’s poetry brilliantly shines through the glossy production during other key moments as well, usually becoming more prominent on stripped down tracks like on lullaby “St. Judy’s Comet.” Finally, Simon anticipates the next step in his solo career with “One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor,” a bluesy take on living in a sketchy apartment complex. Even though it is the least polished and most gruff of all the tracks on here, “Ceiling” still shines through because of a brilliant and emotional performance by Simon, and a beautiful descending piano line that opens and closes the track.
It is hard to believe that There Goes Rhymin Simon’
is only ten tracks long and covers just over thirty five minutes, given the amount of diversity from track to track. Throughout it all, Paul Simon remains as complete of a singer-songwriter as one can ask for, and with this release, it is obvious that Simon fully realized that his days of being constrained in the studio were over. Simply put, Rhymin’ Simon
's diversity stands as a precursor to all of the vastly styled albums he produced during the latter half of his solo career in the eighties and nineties. However, during the mid-seventies, Simon was content to produce music that not only was poppy enough for mainstream consumption, but also deep and meaningful enough to keep more serious listeners intrigued to see just what he was going to do next.